Category Archives: desert

back in the california desert in a fixer-upper

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It happened so fast. And then I was in denial. And then I was excited. But by late fall, we found out that we were moving back to the California desert. In January. After only a year and 1/2 in Albuquerque. Just as I had found a community of cool moms.

Then, we decided to buy a house. First-time homebuyers. You know, to make things easy. We were moving to a market that doesn’t have a lot of rentals. We were moving to a market that plans to add a lot of jobs in the next few years. Interest rates were still low. And I wanted a kiln.

So the week after Thanksgiving, we flew to Palmdale with baby L. and left big C. and little C. with my parents. We found a real estate agent and we decided we’d buy a house that week. The first day, we walked into a house the right size for us with vaulted ceilings and lots of light on a corner lot in the right neighborhood. We knew it would need work, but we said what the hell. Let’s do it. We put in an offer, and we closed within 30 days.

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The house, built in 1990, turned out to be more of a fixer-upper than we expected. That first week in town, we stayed in a hotel. We pulled out the carpets; we scrubbed the floors and walls. We demolished the kitchen. We pulled out the bathtub. We laid carpet in the bedrooms. And then we called in A.’s father for emergency help. “We need you,” we said. (And by “we,” I really mean A.)

The second weekend, I drove the boys to my aunt’s and uncle’s house in Atascadero. I teared up when I saw the ocean. It had been a year and a half since I’d seen it — the glorious, vast ocean that makes me feel alive and connected to the earth. And what a year it was — the closest brush I’d ever had with death.

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Now, we’re living in a construction zone. I didn’t enroll the boys in preschool since big C. starts kinder in the fall and it’s our last chance for freedom — to not be bound by a schedule. So they’re adjusting to no schedule and a new space. And I’m adjusting to very little “me” time. But we’re exploring our new town. We met my parents in San Diego last week. We can go anywhere and do anything and it feels good.

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A. rigged up a sink and we bought all new appliances. It’s livable, but a bit cluttered. All I really want to find is my blender so I can make L. varied baby food. He’s living on banana, sweet potato and baby oatmeal lately. But he just turned 7 months so he’ll be OK.

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Dad O. has painted the bedrooms — the boys’ room, the baby’s room, the guest room — and he’s working on the master now. (I had no idea colors were so hard to pick out.)

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We’re slowly unpacking. It sounds hectic. It feels like it should be hard, but since I’m not working, I don’t have much stress. A. is doing the bulk of the work (he’s my hero). I put my Etsy shop on hold till I have the space to throw again. I bought a kiln — it arrived today and it will be a while till I try my first firing. But for now, I’m living in the moment with these boys in our new house that we have yet to call “home.” But we will call it that — soon.

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getting ready for babe no. 3

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I’m two weeks away from my due date, and feel like I’m barely holding this baby in. Achey back, waddling when I walk, pressure on my bladder, swollen ankles. The baby is doing constant dance parties inside of me and punching me in uncomfortable places. I’m amazed I ever worked in this state. I’m eating well — I cut out all ice cream and treats in the last three weeks — and yet I’ve still gained 45 pounds. This pregnancy? Hardest yet. It’s probably because I’m 39. And because we’re living in a dry climate at almost 6,000 feet. And I’m spending my time with a 4 year old and a 2 year old. And it was 100 degrees today.

But the end is near. And the sleepless nights holding a sweet newborn are quickly approaching. We still don’t have a name. A. is finishing up a dresser for the big boys — made entirely out of 2x4s — so we can move the one with a changing pad into our room. I registered at UNM hospital last week, and A. installed the car seat (three seats in the back of a tiny Mazda 3, thank you very much).

I’ve been trying to keep the boys engaged with fun summer activities while I rest. Play dough, ice pops, the trampoline park, playing with the hose in the backyard, play dates with friends, library time and dinners on the deck.

Today, I picked up the last batch of pottery I’ll do for a while. My mind spins daily thinking about different combinations of glazes and what my “style” is. I’m cleaning up my shop, knowing I’ll have to shut it down till probably the end of August, though the thought makes me cringe. Then, I’ll throw more and open an Etsy shop. I’ve realized I can’t keep this hobby up without selling — it’s expensive and we can’t keep everything I’m making. And the truth is, I’m excited about a new challenge, but I won’t be able to launch it till the fall. Until then, I’ll put my energy into three boys under 5 years old. Wish me luck.

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a realization: albuquerque is not our ‘forever place’

I surprised myself — and A. — when I was in the car with my father-in-law in North Carolina driving from the airport to his house for Thanksgiving. “How do you like Albuquerque so far?” he asked.

“It’s OK,” I said, my voice lilting upward. “It’s nice to have places to eat out and stuff to do with the kids, but I feel landlocked. And there’s something missing.”

“Is it too suburban?” asked my FIL.

“I’m not sure if that’s it, but yes. And believe or not, I do miss the mountains in California [the Eastern Sierras] and the wide open space.”

When we visited in May to house-hunt, I was smitten and had a brief moment where I thought perhaps Albuquerque could be our “forever place” (knowing realistically that A. loves his job and we’re moving back to D.C. in a few years). The mountains are right out my doorstep. The real estate is cheap. Traffic is easy. And there’s a lot to explore in New Mexico and up into Colorado. But now, five months in, I know that it’s not our forever place. And I’m at peace with that. In fact, it will probably make me live a little deeper  — knowing my time here is short.

It’s hard to say exactly what is missing. Part of it is its suburban, sprawling feel and closed off people (not entirely, but for the most part), so I don’t see an easy avenue to creating community. I’ve met some lovely people, and there are friendly smiles at C’s preschool, but I haven’t quite hit that stride where I feel hopeful about local friendships turning long-lasting. I know that takes time, and I have to be patient, so patient. But it’s been hard for me, and it makes me miss my far-away friends more intensely. Plus, even if I develop community in the time we’re here, I’m still quite sure this isn’t our forever place.

So with that realization, I’m shifting my mindset about what I can get out of my time here. Instead of longing for community, I’m focusing on enjoying the mountains (I love that I can be on a trail in five minutes), how much we explore and that I don’t have to work because Albuquerque is affordable. Also, I am continually trying to stay in the moment with my deep love for A. and my tiny, adorable littles who won’t be little for that long — their cuddles, sweet voices and giggles and excitement for the mundane. “LOOK MAMA, THERE’S A TAXI!!!!!”

So although I’m missing community, I can build it slowly, but really turn my attention to family, being a tourist, creating — and staying thankful.

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hey facebook, I’m over you

photo 1-14I’ve been on Facebook since 2006. Eight years. In that time, I went on several international trips — Peru, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cost Rica, Tanzania, Iceland. I ran my second marathon. I landed a dream job. I fell in love, had a baby, got married, quit my job, moved cross-country and had another baby.

And through all of this, I can’t recall Facebook ever making me feel bad. Until this summer.

There have been several articles about how Facebook makes people feel lonely or envious. This happens when people, I think, see photos of something they want — but either don’t have or can’t get. When a friend was trying to get pregnant, and ultimately went through in-vitro, she couldn’t stand seeing photos of babies on Facebook.

What got to me this summer was seeing photos of people laughing with their friends, and amazing summer-time scenes.

Summer in Ridgecrest is harsh. It’s too hot to spend much time outside during the day. (I get my fresh air at dusk after the boys are asleep).

What’s more, I started working in the mornings, and I’m in front of a computer from 8-12, the time I used to socialize. So not only am I far away from dear friends who live all over the country, but I’ve also been feeling even more isolated in a quiet place.

When I feel bad, I tackle it. What will get me back on track to feeling great? Exercise? A trip to see friends? Stop working? For starters, I deleted Facebook off of my phone. Now, I look at it seldom. So seldom that Facebook has started sending me messages — “Hey, E., look at what you’re missing!”

The site, to me, is the strangest beast. It makes me feel (kind of) connected to former colleagues. It opens the door to reconnect with long-lost friends. Sometimes, I crowd source for good reads or travel suggestions. But overall, the insincerity of it and the boastfulness of it and the well, faux social connection, makes me question its benefit. And really, it’s a complete time suck in a time when it feels like every moment is precious. I’d much rather read for a 1/2 hour than scroll through photos of people doing awesome things in beautiful places and longing to be where they are, instead of appreciating where I am. Because where I am is pretty damn great.

So, for now, I’m staying off of it. I’m spending time with the littles, like this one, who just turned six months old. And I’m truly the happier for it.

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chemical-free: hippy, or just smart?

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So, here’s another thing that has happened to me since moving to the desert almost two years ago: I have a strong desire to live chemical-free — even beyond eating organic fruits and vegetables. 

I used to get a pedicure every four-six weeks (from the time I was 27). It’s been almost a year since my last pedicure.

I used to use Windex to clean our stove. Now I use water.

I used to wash my dishes with Dawn. Now I use Seventh Generation.

I used to buy whatever brand of sunscreen that seemed to go on easily. Now I consult this website.

I used to wear mascara and lipstick every day. Now I do only on special occasions. 

I used to wear whatever deodorant smelled good. Now I use this. 

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I think I might be a little insecure about my new trend, because I found myself joking about it to my best friend S., who I saw in L.A. two weekends ago. She looked happy and refreshed, having driven cross-country from D.C., camping all along the way. She wore her curly hair natural (she always used to blow it dry) and it looked beautiful. 

“I bought a hippy stick,” I said. 

She laughed. 

“How sad that toxic-free is considered hippy,” she said.

I don’t even know if it is, but if living chemical-free is branded “hippy” — to deride it — I perpetuated the brand. Which is ridiculous.

From now on, I intend to embrace my choices. It may not make any difference in the world, but it feels good and right. Natural. 

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perspective. sometimes you have it. sometimes you don’t.

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It’s the dead of summer. Our swamp cooler went out yesterday, and I watched the thermometer tick up — 80 degrees in the house, hm. 85. 87. A drip of sweat on my back. Oh yes, time to call property management. CP was in his crib, crying, his hair matted to his head. I took him for a loop around the town with the car air conditioning blasting. A. opened the swamp cooler, and saw that the water pump wasn’t working. “Look,” he said, when I returned. “It’s really simple.”

The heating and cooling people didn’t call. A. drove to Home Depot and replaced the pump himself. “Twenty-eight dollars,” he said. “And the receipt flew out the window.”

We went on vacation to Michigan and North Carolina over the 4th and came back to the desert more exhausted than when we left. CP cried on the flights. CM had a few epic meltdowns. Schedules altered. A flight cancelled. Our car shined a warning light before we drove into Death Valley (false alarm). You know the drill. Travel, as much as I love it and seeing family, is draining.

At almost five months, CP is waking twice a night minimum. I’m running on empty.

We’ve been talking a lot about our next move when we leave the desert. It’s all up in the air, but even though it’s a year away, it increases our anxieties. Eventually we’ll end up back in the D.C. area.

“Let’s get a farm house,” I say. “Deep in Virginia.”

“Let’s build a tiny house,” A. says. I think he means it. “I don’t want a two-hour commute.”

D.C. friends came to visit last week. They’re journalists — one for National Geographic, the other for the Washington Post — and they have two girls who are the same ages as CM and CP. They rented a van for three weeks with a pull-down bed and a kitchen to tour around California. We made sweet potato and black bean tacos with an avocado pepita dip and the kids ran in the sprinklers.

“I’m really digging your life,” she said.

“We’re happy,” I said. “For now.”

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It was cloudy today, which put A. in a funk. It’s sunny 350 days of the year.

“I need a project,” he said.

We drove to Cottonwood Meadows this morning. The signs said it was bear country. We walked about 100 yards on the dusty trail before CM wanted to hang out on a log (“This used to be a tree, mama”). He didn’t want to hike anymore.

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So I wandered. And I found a tree with a hole in the trunk, covered in dried sap. And I snapped dozens of photos. Same square of the tree, different exposures, different angles. How each of us see the world. Some with golden hues, some black; some with smooth lines, some with dead bark.

When I returned to the log, it started to drizzle. CP was ready for his nap. CM had sand in his shoes. Two crying babies. Two parents, shaking their heads. Ready for the next laugh, sun and a bit of inspiration.

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peaches, bunk-beds and heat

It’s starting to get hot in the desert. The kind of hot where I don’t want any of my skin exposed to the unforgiving sun. The kind of hot where when you walk into the scrub, you worry about snakes and occasionally see a sand-colored iguana dart past you. The kind of hot where it’s more quiet than usual around noon. And the sky seems bluer than usual.

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It’s also peach season. Our peach tree, which yielded 18 peaches last year, has a few hundred this year. So I’m blanching and freezing them for smoothies. And on Saturday, I made my first pie ever from scratch, using this crust and this filling. I cut the sugar in half and didn’t put any on top. It was Meditteranean-style delicious where we could actually enjoy the sweetness of the peaches. Last night, A. and CM walked freshly-picked soft peaches to the neighbors.

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A. is working hard on building bunk-beds for the boys. Over the past few weeks, he’s taken over the garage cutting and sanding and assembling the wood. This weekend he painted. CM wanted green, so we picked out three shades on Friday, ultimately deciding on Happy Camper. We ordered mattresses — splurging for organic to avoid chemicals — and I’ll pick out some sheets this week. We hope to move CM into his new room by next month so we can shift CP into the crib.

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As for the boys, CM now has six imaginary friends, who are always with us, on our hikes, in the backyard, in the car: Bevi, Doc, Wood, More Wood, Mud and … wait for it… Jason. CP, who’s not quite three months, rolled over and is kicking and coo-ing and smiling all of the time. He’s a calm, happy baby who sleeps well, and that makes for a calm and happy me.

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the eclipse from the Calif. desert

Star-gazing is among the coolest of our California-desert experiences. Last night, A. took these photos of the eclipse with a 300mm lens from our front patio.

I stretched out on our king bed and slept for a rare four hours, an exceptional feat since our seven-week old has a stomach virus. Little CP is on the mend, and A. got to see a once-in-a-lifetime event, so the whole family is happy this morning.

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rain, a funeral and thanksgiving

It rained here for three days, a strange event in the desert. The clouds rolled in Thursday, the day after we found out my mom’s brother died — one of eight siblings, and the third youngest. Plans were swift — on two days’ notice, family flew cross-country and we drove four hours to Atascadero on the California coast. My cousins and aunts and uncles packed into my aunts’ houses and hugged and cried and laughed and sang and drank and ate. After the funeral Sunday, we had the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch New Years’ meal of pork and sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and cabbage.

The whole time, I kept thinking of this article: “Always Go To The Funeral.” It’s true — a mantra to live by. And I kept thinking about how precious life is. And how much I love my family. And how thankful I am my parents — who live in Michigan — can join us and A.’s parents and brother for the holiday. And how I’ll tell A. and C. how much I love them over and over and continue to squeeze them tight. Happy Thanksgiving, all.

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our first fall in the desert

The leaves are turning — golden hues that light up our backyard. It feels like fall in the desert with a few cloudy days, and I’ve been bursting with happiness.

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Our days are still quiet, but I’ve finally, finally — after nearly a year of living in the California desert — invited a few friends over for playdates. The kids are kind, and the moms are cool. C., our almost two-year-old, who is saying things like, “We’re having a conversation, mama,” and, “It’s cloudy outside, mama,” and “You’re my angel, mama,” is ready to be social and gets giddy when I tell him N. or K. are coming over. We sit on our backyard patio in the morning in slippers and sweaters, eating vanilla chai scones and chatting, while the kids chase each other under the pomegranate trees.

Last week, I realized that it would be nice for the little ones to have a table to sit at on the patio. So, in three days, A. made a kiddie picnic table out of cedar, which I love. A. often designs his own furniture, but he “stole” (his word) this idea from a woman in Alaska, who provides drawings and dimensions on her beautiful blog, though he added his own touches.

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C and his picnic table

The cooler weather makes me want to read in the evenings, snuggled up under blankets, feeling the baby kick me gently (I’m 25 weeks already, where is the time going?). I’m crocheting like a madwoman: my latest challenge is to teach myself how to cable. I made mittens (using a pattern provided by this woman, who is also from Alaska) and I’m in the midst of making a hat that is more complex. Next, I’ll  turn to Christmas stockings to hang on our fireplace, since family is coming to us this year.

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During C.’s naps, I warm hot chocolate or malted milk with vanilla, bake muffins or bread and listen to author interviews on NPR. I’ve been experimenting with cooking: carrot soup with lemon tahini sauce, sweet potato and kale frittata, roasted spaghetti squash with parmesan. I’m putting pomegranate seeds on everything: my morning oatmeal, spinach salads with feta, apple muffins.

The days are still warm — in the 60s — so I can enjoy walks along the bike path and marvel at the mountains.

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I love fall, and I love that though we’re in the desert, we still get a taste of it before the high winds blow, the leaves fall off of the trees, and the ground freezes over.

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